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Extremist rebels in Syria withdraw heavy arms in Idlib

Extremist rebels in Syria withdraw heavy arms in Idlib

BEIRUT: Tens of thousands of Syrians in areas recaptured by regime troops this year remain starved of humanitarian aid, with the relief agencies helping them for years now unable to reach them.

As towns switched from opposition to regime control, international aid groups were forced to halt their crucial health, food and protection services as they had no regime authorization to work.

Since April this has left vulnerable civilians in Syria’s south, Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, and rural parts of Homs province without the vital support they once relied on.

“In total, tens of thousands of people are impacted by the halt in humanitarian aid,” said Joelle Bassoul, spokeswoman for CARE International, which used to send aid into opposition-held areas.

“In effect, when we stop operating, it means our partners have stopped operating and have no more humanitarian capacity in the given area.”

More than seven years into Syria’s conflict, 13 million people across the country still need humanitarian assistance, says the UN.

Aid became politicized early on, and two separate operations developed.

One, based out of Damascus, saw the UN and other agencies providing assistance solely with regime authorization.

Meanwhile, NGOs based in Turkey or Jordan helped civilians in opposition areas through a parallel system, without regime approval.

This year President Bashar Assad brought many of those areas under regime control through a string of military victories, forcing those international agencies to pull out.

“The aid that used to come from international agencies to the south completely stopped,” said Mohammad Al-Zoabi, 29, from Al-Mseifra in southern Syria.

“Now, there’s a lack of flour, medical supplies, and hospitals in general after medical points and field clinics were closed, badly affecting people,” he said.

According to the UN, 66 aid trucks entered the south from Jordan in June but zero in July when troops seized the area.

Residents of the south interviewed by AFP reported hospital closures and a lack of medicine and flour.

They said doctors and Syrian aid workers had fled, were wanted by security forces for working in rebel areas or had requested — but were denied — regime permission to resume relief work.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), Mercy Corps, and Save the Children all confirmed they had halted aid programs.

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